Should Men Have to Verbally Ask for Consent Before Having Sex?

The first time I remember hearing about consent guidelines was in 1990.

I was a freshman in college – binge-drinking, flirtatious, virginal freshman – when I read a story about Antioch College’s radical new sexual harassment policy in which men would have to ask a woman for verbal consent before initiating any physical advances.

As the link above suggests, it  was widely mocked at the time, but in service of preventing date rape and lawsuits, affirmative consent has become the de facto policy for most universities. While Gen Xers like me aren’t entirely on board as a  cohort, millions of millennials have been taught that this is the way sex starts – with a conversation.

That’s why I felt the need to share this link from Healthline called “What Is Consent?”

It’s a very thorough document that outlines exactly how these conversations should be taking place in every bedroom in the country, every single night.

After all, “If clear, voluntary, coherent, and ongoing consent is not given by all participants, it’s sexual assault. There’s no room for ambiguity or assumptions when it comes to consent, and there aren’t different rules for people who’ve hooked up before. Nonconsensual sex is rape.”

To be CRYSTAL clear, I don’t think any person in his/her right mind is defending sexual assault, suggesting that “no doesn’t mean no,” or denying a woman’s right to change her mind at any point in time during a sexual encounter. If a woman doesn’t want to proceed physically, she should make it known and the man should respect it.

The only reason I’m writing this post is that it feels like we’re setting some unrealistic to impossible standards for an act that, for most people, is driven by non-verbal communication. I certainly never felt I’ve sexually assaulted anyone – and I hope my  wife and exes would concur, but by these standards, I’m probably guilty of…something.

Here are a couple of examples from the article:

“Silence is not consent. Never assume you have consent – you should clarify by asking.”

I have rarely asked, “May I kiss you.” I have never asked, “May I remove your bra?” or “May I unbuckle your belt?” I have certainly asked if I should reach for a condom, but definitely not every single time when I’m with a regular partner.

“Repeatedly asking someone to engage in a sexual act until they eventually say yes is not consent, it’s coercion.”

“Repeatedly asking someone to engage in a sexual act until they eventually say yes is not consent, it’s coercion.”

Many sexual experiences start with making out, which leads to heavy petting, which leads to clothing removal, which leads to some form of genital stimulation or penetration. This is all, by the way, consensual. But it doesn’t mean that either he/she planned it to happen this way or discussed it.

While we can all stand behind the concept of “no means no,” it’s disingenuous to suggest that all “nos” are created equal.

Sometimes, “no” means “I shouldn’t. It’s a first date.”

Sometimes “no” means, “I want to but I also want you to respect me.”

Sometimes “no” means, “Not now, but maybe a little later if I’m really turned on.”

So while the woman ALWAYS should have veto power, to suggest that if she slows him down when he’s kissing her neck, he should just stop there for the rest of the night is simply inconsistent with most people’s life experience. No sometimes means no. It also sometimes means maybe, especially when two people are kissing, not talking.

I suppose you can say this makes the case for verbal consent. I would only point out that while it’s important to teach men that it’s a woman’s right to say no or change her mind – I’m not positive that talking thru each step of sex every single time with a regular partner is either organic or realistic.

Then again, if a whole generation is being raised this way, perhaps that will become the new normal. Maybe sex, as my generation knew it, will change forever.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.


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